Matthew Stuart: Life Story

Chapter 1: Childhood and Exile

In common with every noble family in Scotland, Matthew Stuart’s [1] life was determined by the fateful battle of Flodden, despite it having occurred three years before he was born. His grandfather, Matthew Stewart, 2nd Earl of Lennox, was, along with the king, James IV, one of the many casualties of the battle. His father, therefore, inherited the earldom as the age of eighteen.

John, 3rd Earl of Lennox, was the great-grandson of James II, through his mother, Elizabeth Hamilton, which gave him, and subsequently Matthew, a claim to the Scots throne. Much of the history of Scotland for the next fifty years was influenced by the Lennox’ desire to establish the superiority of their claim to be the heirs of the main royal Stewart line, over that of their cousins, the Hamiltons of Arran, descended from Elizabeth’s brother, James.

The death of James IV had left Scotland with a king, James V, who was only eighteen months old. The Queen-dowager, Margaret Tudor, sought to establish herself as regent, but her hasty marriage to Archibald Douglas, Earl of Angus, led to her being set aside in favour of the claims of yet another Stewart relative, John, Duke of Albany, who as the grandson of James II, was the young king’s nearest heir [2].  

John, Earl of Lennox, and Albany were on good terms, and during Albany’s government of Scotland, Lennox received various public offices. During this period, Matthew, aged three, was betrothed on 16th February 1519 at Glasgow to Christian Montgomery, daughter of John, the Master of Eglinton, and granddaughter of Hugh, Earl of Eglinton, but the marriage never took place.

Albany’s task as regent was thankless – he was constantly challenged in his role, first by Queen Margaret, who was later reconciled to him, and later by Queen Margaret’s estranged husband, the Earl of Angus. Albany returned to France, for a period leaving the Earl of Arran in control – a proceeding which Angus objected to. Arran and Angus and their adherents came to blows in a skirmish in the High Street of Edinburgh, known as 'Cleanse the Causeway'.

Angus was victorious, and took control of the young James V and his government. He was later reconciled to Arran, and, in 1526, when Queen Margaret sought to free James from Angus’ control, with the help of the Earl of Lennox, they joined forces against Lennox. Lennox was defeated at the battle of Linlithgow Bridge – he was wounded and surrendered, but rather than being treated honourably, was murdered by Sir James Hamilton of Finnart, Arran’s illegitimate son.

According to the chronicler, Leslie of Pittscottie, Arran was appalled at his son’s action, and wept over the body, with the words ‘The wisest man, the stoutest man, the hardiest man that was ever born in Scotland is slain this day’. Whether Arran’s regret were genuine or not, Matthew, aged ten, was now 4th Earl of Lennox and became an implacable enemy of the Hamiltons.

The young Lennox, together with his younger brother, John, was sent to France for safety, whilst his other brother, Robert, and his sister, Helen, remained in Scotland. Their mother, the widowed Countess Isobel (or Elizabeth – the names were synonymous) of Lennox, subsequently married Ninian Ross, Lord Halkhead.

France was chosen, not just because of the many links between Scotland and that country, but specifically because of the presence at the French court of a branch of the Lennox family. In 1429, Sir John Stewart, son of Sir John Stewart and his wife, Elizabeth, Countess of Lennox, went to France, and fought for the French against England in the Hundred Years’ War. He settled in his new country and was rewarded with the title of Lord d’Aubigny.  Later, his granddaughter and heir, Anne, married her second cousin, Lennox’ great-uncle, Robert Stewart, who became Lord d’Aubigny, and was Marshal of France. Robert and Anne had no children, so were happy to take in the boys, with a view to Lennox’ brother inheriting the d’Aubigny title.  

In 1513, Louis XII had granted French naturalisation to all Scottish subjects living in France, or dying there, regardless of their rank – a grant later confirmed by François I. As naturalised Frenchmen, these resident Scots could aspire to any office in French religious or secular society, and inherit lands in accordance with French law. The brothers were brought up close to the French court, speaking French, and adopting the French spelling of Stuart.

The brothers received the usual military training, and had joined the Garde Ecossaise, under their great-uncle’s command.  Lennox first saw active service in 1536, in one of the regular campaigns of the Italian Wars, fought between François and his arch-enemy, the Emperor Charles V.  In January 1537, he attended the wedding of James V to François’ daughter, Princess Madeleine, and, as part of the general celebrations, Lennox and John received personal grants of naturalisation from François. Matthew was thus both a Scot and a naturalised Frenchman.

Lord d’Aubigny died around 1543, and John inherited his estates.  


[1] Matthew changed the spelling of his name from the usual Scottish form of Stewart, to the French form of Stuart, so his preference is followed here

[2] James IV’s posthumous son, Alexander, Duke of Ross, died in early infancy